Division of Kingdom. When the horn plays, Gloucester and Kent would immediately be at their alert and drop their informal act. The horn signifies the protocol that has to be followed whenever the King is coming. Its also reflects the formality of the occasion and Lear’s authority as the King of Britain. Shakespeare emphasises Lear’s authority as the king as he gives commands immediately to Gloucester to “attend the lords of France and Burgundy” as soon as he comes in. In certain production, Gloucester takes Edmund with him as he comes out but as
Gloucester rushes out, Edmund sneakily turns back and stands among the attendants in order to listen in on the announcement going on in throne room. Lear then quickly gets on the “darker purpose” of the gathering and announces formally of his decision to divide his kingdom, “we have divided in three our kingdom”. In doing so, he is also announcing that he is “shaking all cares and business from our age” indicating that he is stepping down from his throne while he makes his “unburdened crawl toward death”. His intention of trying to prevent the “future strife” is an irony as he is naware of the consequences of his rash decision. Later on in the play, he gets a taste of the strife that he set himself. Lear’s “get-down-to business” attitude reflects his efficiency as a king. However, his decision to retire is a violation to the Divine Rights of the Kings which states that the kingdom cannot be given to anyone else as the king was born with the title. Lear announces a “love competition” as he commands his daughters to confess their love towards him, “which of you shall we say doth love is most”. As the eldest, Gonerill starts to express her love for her “beloved” father.
She starts giving Lear over the top expressions of her love for him, “I love you more than word can wield the matter”, claiming that her love is worth much more than words can put it. She claims that her love for Lear is “dearer than eyesight” which is the most important sense of the human body. Lear, blinded by Gonerill’s flattery, believes every word said by Gonerill. Lear’s second daughter, Regan, also does her best to flatter Lear. She claims that Gonerill’s speech “comes too short” to express her love towards Lear. Regan announces that she is “alone felicitate in your dear highness’ love”.
The extreme flattery done by the two sisters indicates that their love confession is just to please the aging father without meaning any of it. In contrast to her sisters ‘love confession to Lear, Cordelia could not come up with anything except for “nothing”. It shows the contrast that Cordelia is much more reserved and sincere character. She is unable to express her love her father in words and confesses this flaw to her beloved father, “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth”. This honesty emphasises on her “angelic” trait as a daughter and a woman. She refuses to exaggerate her words to describe her love for her father.
Instead, she gives Lear an honest and sincere answer, “I return those duties back as are right fit, Obey you, love you and most honour you”. Cordelia’s dissimilarity with her sister is also shown to the audience as she speaks to herself while her sisters are pouring out the best metaphors to express their lover for Lear, “What shall Codelia speak ? Love and be silent”. The line also emphasises on her reserved characteristic. Lear who’s ego has been given a boost by his elder daughter’s speeches, is shocked and disappointed to hear that Cordelia could only come up with “nothing” to confess her love for him in front of everyone.
Lear has been expecting the best reply from the “joy” of his life, Cordelia. He hints that he has put aside the division of kingdom that is “a third more opulent than your sisters”, reflecting his favouritism towards Codelia. As Lear announces “a third more opulent” portion for Cordelia, Gonerill and Regan would exchange looks, indicating their jealousy toward their youngest sister. Disbelief with Cordelia’s reply, Lear orders Cordelia to “mend her speech a little” and even vaguely threatens her of losing her inheritance, “lest you may mar your fortunes”. As Cordelia refuses to exaggerate her love or her father, Lear decides to disown her, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, propinquity and property of blood”. Here, Lear rashness is shown again and it is the beginning of the tragedy that is set unintentionally by Lear himself. His disappointment and anger with his favourite daughter is so much so that he did not stop even consult his advisors before disowning Cordelia in public, in front of all his men and servants. As Lear disowns Cordelia, Regan and Gonerill would be smirking behind his back as their biggest “competitor” is thrown out of their way. Their reaction to Cordelia’s banishment is a hint of their more icious acts later on in the play. Lear’s rash decision to disown Cordelia leaves everyone on stage in shock until Kent comes up to reason with the king “Good my liege”. However, Lear brushes off his interruption quickly as he is still too angry with Cordelia. Shakespeare further emphasises Lear’s frustration as he is already using past tense to describe his frustration with Cordelia, “I loved her most, and thought to set my rest on her kind nursery”. This line also shows that Lear wants to live with Cordelia after his retirement. It also reflects on Lear’s once close relationship with Cordelia.
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